Can You Respond in Time?

At AHA, we are working with a new client that is dealing with a serious issue within its organization. This particular issue had a great deal of misinformation, miscommunication and speculation around it. One of the challenges that this organization faces is that for quite some time, it has had an internal culture of little or no authentic communication. Not because the senior executive team is uncaring or doesn’t want to communicate, but it is a busy, successful business that has seen rapid growth in the past decade. For many people, there just didn’t seem to be the time to reach out and connect.

Unfortunately that neglect has come back to create internal issues. There are human resource challenges, inefficiencies between departments and some information circulating is just plain wrong – and it is creating concern and anxiety among employees. In the past, this organization had not considered communication a priority. That has changed. There is a new Chief Operating Officer (COO) who is committed to creating open, two-way communication opportunities. He is also ready to work with staff to identify and improve the blocks to communication.

In beginning to create a strategic plan for internal communications, we quickly realized that it is going to take more than an inspiring speech and a promise to respond from the new COO. Credibility and trust need to be rebuilt and the employees are a little skeptical about whether honest, open and two-way communication will become their day-to-day reality. This is going to take a culture change and for that to happen, the shift has to come from a range of areas within the organization. We’re still working this through and will blog more about the innovative ways we’re working with this company to move forward in this area.

For this post, we’re focused on the importance of an organization to quickly and thoughtfully respond to an issue. One of the challenges that most organizations now face is that it is crucial to respond quickly when a potential issue, challenge or opportunity comes up. Gone are the days when you had days or weeks to think about things, to develop the right messaging and positioning. Our world is now fast paced. There is an expectation of a quick response for both internal and external stakeholders. At best, you have 24 hours – and I have to admit, even that seems like a long, drawn-out response time to me. Journalists update their online articles and post new articles throughout the day and night. There is no more news cycle tied to print production and broadcast times. Many people connect with their BlackBerry or iPhone and very few people don’t check their inbox, Facebook, Twitter or other social networking accounts on a daily basis.

Each organization is different, but there seems to be a gap when it comes to providing information to stakeholders in a timely fashion. Approval processes are outdated and cumbersome. Creating a streamlined process is crucial.

Could your organization turn around a response within 24 hours? Within 12 hours? How about eight hours or in four? If it was urgent and a crisis hit, could you have a written document, a video or other form of communication developed, approved and distributed in an hour? These are important questions to ask yourself and your colleagues.

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